The Washington Capitals need a standout season from their three big stars if they want to make the playoffs after a season in the newly minted Metropolitan Division. Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom all need to find their groove early—and keep it going—or the Capitals will sit out the postseason for the first time in seven years.
The “Young Guns” as they were known when they first played together for the Caps (along with ex-Cap Alexander Semin) are the best NHL players not to lift the Stanley Cup. Let’s face it, they should have all lifted it in 2010—and would have had they not faced those pesky Montreal Canadiens and their brick wall goalie Jaroslav Halak. That Capitals team probably still has nightmares involving Halak and his superhuman antics during the first round playoff series in which the Caps blew a 3-1 series lead.
It seems like that 2009-10 season still haunts Ovechkin, Green, Backstrom and the remaining Caps from that term. The team had just won the Presidents’ Trophy with a ridiculous 121 points and was the clear favorite to win the Cup. But, it all went horribly wrong. It shouldn’t have. Between them, the trio clocked up 102 goals and 184 assists during that season. All three must revert to that kind of productivity or the upcoming season will be a dud for the Caps.
Gone are the days of facing off against the Florida Panthers and the Winnipeg Jets on a regular basis. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New York Islanders will be regular attendees at the Verizon Center in the 2013-14 season. However, these new guests may well bring out the best in the trio. Every Caps game against these foes will unfold like a playoff game.
The terrible Southeast Division was a key factor in the Caps making the playoffs for six seasons, but the terrible Southeast Division was a key factor in the Caps making a quick exit from the playoffs for six seasons. New and tougher competition in the regular season will hopefully better prepare the Caps for the postseason—should they get there.
Last season, Backstrom won best supporting actor honors with 40 assists, most of them on Ovechkin goals—Ovie racked up 32 of them and won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for most goals in the regular season. Mike Green had a few injury issues again but still managed an impressive 26 points over his 35 games.
What should Ovechkin, Green and Backstrom do in the coming season? Stay healthy (easier said than done) and continue where they left off from last season. Additionally, they should recapture the same kind of synergy they had in the early days. If they do, then last season’s stats will look mediocre compared to this season’s.
These three guys, when they’re firing on all cylinders, live up to their superstar billing—during the regular season. The postseason? Let’s just say that there is room for improvement and Adam Oates is the only coach they’ve had who can improve things.
The team has its other core players who more than complement its three biggest stars with Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera and John Carlson chief among them. Adding to this year’s mix is center Mikhail Grabovski who will be looking to impress his new coach and new fans.
If goalie Braden Holtby stays consistent over the season and the other players get the job done, the Caps will emerge from the “Retro Metro Division” as Cup contenders—but only if their three “Youngish Guns” play at 100 percent.